Friday, November 21, 2014

Gone Girl (a movie review (without the book) post)

Well... Here we are at the beginning of the Oscar Run. That's my new term for the beginning of what is kind of Oscar season. Technically, there is no "Oscar season;" however, it's also true that most of the movies that are nominated for best picture come out in November and December. At any rate, we went to see our first of the potential nominees.
First, I have not read the book. My wife has, but she was careful not to tell me anything about it other than read to me the "cool girl" speech. Still, I knew that there was a twist (because everyone is always talking about Twist in this one) even if I didn't know what it was. It didn't catch me. Maybe, it's because I knew there was one and was just anticipating or, maybe, it's because of how the movie starts, which is what I suspect. And I'd love to talk about it, but I don't actually want to spoil it for anyone else. So I'll just say it like this:

When you have a character alone and that character is reacting to something in a particular way, since there are no other characters around to witness the reaction, the audience is inclined to trust that the reaction is genuine.

I think that's what "ruined" the twist for me, because I had already accepted one particular reaction from one of the characters as genuine, so I wasn't able to go down the path that the director wanted me to go so as to be surprised by the truth.

My wife tells me that I would have been fooled by the book. Now, we'll never know.

Okay, all of that aside, I did really enjoy the movie. Ben Affleck is excellent. It's a rather subdued role, but he played it really well. He's a guy who isn't happy in his marriage, has financial issues, and... well, I don't want to tip anything off. Affleck is very adept, though, at switching his charm on and off, and he uses it well in this movie. Mostly, he's a disheveled mess, but he has those flashes of charisma that seemingly come out of nowhere and are instantly gone.

Rosamund Pike was an excellent choice for Amy Dunne. She has that rather cold, detached demeanor that worked really well in this role.

Beyond the two leads, I liked Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt. A lot. I'm not really familiar with Perry beyond knowing his name, so it was good to see him in something. I don't know if his portrayal of Bolt is anything like the character in the book, but I really enjoyed him on screen.

And, you know, it's good to see Neil Patrick Harris in anything, though I don't think there was anything remarkable about this role for him other than to be reminded that he is capable of more than just being Barney, which is to same Awesome.

I won't be surprised if Gone Girl gets nominated (they seem to have slim pickings this year from what I can tell from the early lists), but it's not going to win. ]Yeah, yeah. I know last year my pick didn't even get a nomination, but I still stand by it.] It's a good, solid movie. Interesting. If you haven't read the book, you are likely to get caught up in trying to figure out what's really going on. And there's a lot in it to keep you talking about it for a few days. It's definitely worth seeing, though it's not a movie you really need to see in the theater.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Nine -- "I want it all!" (an IWM post)

"I want the world. I want the whole world... Give it to me now." -- Veruca Salt

The Epicure

Also known as the Enthusiast, the Seven is best known for her pursuit of pleasure. Her enthusiastic pursuit of pleasure, because Sevens rarely get involved in activities without throwing themselves in all the way. However, this can sometimes resemble throwing yourself into the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim.

The Enthusiast is the more common name given to Sevens, but I prefer Epicure. So here's a brief history lesson:

Wait! Where's the history lesson? Do you even want a history lesson? Actually, in this case, you do. Just trust me. And you ought to know by now that you need to hop over to Indie Writers Monthly to get the lesson, so click the link!

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Also, don't forget that the
is coming up! It's not too late to sign up!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ozma of Oz (a book review post)

Because The Woggle-Bug Book, is not included as one of the Oz books, Ozma of Oz is considered the third book in the series. Despite the fact that the book is not really about Ozma (introduced in The Marvelous Land of Oz), it gets her name. She doesn't even show up until more than 1/3 into it and hardly takes center-stage after that. The title, though, is probably the greatest weakness of the book. So far, I'm enjoying each of these more than the previous one. Being only three books in, though, that's not saying much.

In a broad, cultural sense, Ozma of Oz may be the most significant of the Oz books. It introduces the character Tiktok, who is considered by many to be the first use of a robot in literature. An actual mechanical person with a mechanical brain. He's a clockwork, as the name implies, and you have to wind him up, but, unlike the Tin Man, he is completely manufactured and his knowledge was "programmed." Of course, we don't really know what that means, but it doesn't really matter. Within the structure of the book, he is just another of Baum's interesting and entertaining characters, winding down at inopportune times.

My favorite of the new characters in this book is the Princess Langwidere. The princess owns only one dress, a white one, because it goes with all of her heads, all the 30 of them. Rather than change clothes to make herself attractive, she changes heads. The white dress is because it goes with whatever head she chooses to wear. This, of course, rather confuses her subjects, because they can't figure out why she looks different every time they see her. Each head also has its own personality so, although she retains her memories, some heads are more likable than others, and she can feel bad in one head about what she did while wearing another. This whole idea is a great concept, and I wish I'd thought of it.

I should mention that this book features the return, by popular demand, of both Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion.

Now, rather than talk anymore about the story, clever as it is, I want to discuss some social issues and commentary that are worth noting.

There are no men in these books. Not really. The only real example of a man that you get is that of the Wizard in the first book, and he's a fraud. Although the Tin Man used to be a man, he is no longer. All that's left is a rather vain and pompous facsimile. Fortunately, he's also genuinely caring, or he would be insufferable. The other male personas among the main characters are just that: personas. They don't represent actual people but ideas. Then there are the soldiers in Ozma of Oz, who are rather comedic as they are all but one officers. The lone private is only there so that the others have someone to give orders to. He's also the only one who doesn't run away from danger, although the officers were supposedly chosen for their bravery.

All of the important characters in the books are women, and most of them are positive examples of powerful women, Princess Langwidere being a prominent exception. She was more interested in admiring her various heads in the mirror rather than ruling the kingdom which she was responsible for. Considering that these were written before women had the right to vote, I think this is an important aspect of the Oz books to acknowledge.

That said, we do run across Jinjur, who had been a general in the previous Oz book, who is now married and settled down. Dorothy is amazed by the change but, as Jinjur says, "I've married a man who owns nine cows and now I am happy and contented and willing to lead a quiet life and mind my own business." So, despite the fact that Baum supports the independence and power of women, there does still seem to be the underlying belief that all a woman needs is to find the right man to marry and she will settle down and give up all that other stuff. It does seem, though, that Jinjur wears the pants in her marriage; her husband is indoors nursing the black eye that she gave him for not following directions. I think, though, all things considered, we can forgive Baum this one slip. At least in these first three books, Oz gives us a powerful representation of what independent women can do.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Big Hero 6 (a movie review post)

Big Hero 6 is a movie that intrigues me on a lot of levels. It ought to have everything going for it.

It's based on a Marvel property (which I didn't even realize until I was seeing the movie (I can't say what gave it away (okay, I could, but that would be a spoiler))). That said, it's based on a Marvel property that I'm not actually familiar with so this is the rare adaptation (from a comic book) that I can see without having a picture in my mind of how it ought to be. Of course, I looked up the comic when I got home, and the path of adaptation they chose for this one is really interesting.

The comic is loosely set in the X-Men side of Marvel so has the full spectrum of mutants and all of that. The movie has removed everything that isn't technology based or transformed those things into something that is technology based. Basically, they made Big Hero fit into a slightly futuristic world in which people are still just people. And they did a really good job of it, too.

The movie does a great job with the exposition of the story. It's so typical of movies these days to just skip the exposition entirely, so I really appreciate it when a film takes the time to provide a foundation for the story they want to tell. Without having a way to check the timing on the movie, I'm going to guess the first half hour or so is all exposition. Let me re-say what I just said before: I like that!

Visually, the movie is incredible. Not just that it has great animation, but it has a great style. Actually, it looks a lot like The Incredibles, but that's not surprising considering that John Lasseter produced the movie.

Plus, it has the best drunken robot scene ever. Okay, that may not be surprising since it's probably the only drunken robot scene ever, but, still, it's hilarious.

The voice acting is adequate. There's nothing there to make any of it stand out except, maybe, for Scott Adsit, but it's hard to tell how much of that is him and how much is manipulation of his voice to make it work for Baymax.

The villain has a really cool look. That's all I'm saying about that. I mean, I'd be freaked out to have someone like that coming after me.

And the side characters work, too.

It has all the ingredients it needs for me to love it.

But I didn't.

Don't get me wrong; I really liked it; I just didn't love it. And I can't really tell you why other than that I saw the movie playing out the way it was going to go well before it got there. However, that was an interesting experience in-and-of itself, because my kids made the logic jumps the movie wanted them to make so that they would be surprised by what was actually going on when it was revealed at the end. I had to bite my tongue not to spoil it for them. For instance, at one point, my son said something about who the bad guy was, and I almost said, "No, that's not who it is," but I managed to catch myself.

I'm not really sure if that was the problem or not. It might also have been that the main emotional punch of the movie happens toward the beginning, so I had no catharsis at the end.

Really, it's not that important. It's a really good movie. It's great, even. It's just not excellent. It's not a movie I left the theater wanting to see again, which, for me, is the hallmark of an excellent film.

The short film at the beginning, though, that was awesome, and I'd love to see that again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Eight -- "Give me something to believe in." (an IWM post)

"...if you shake my hand, that's for life." -- Jerry Lewis

The Loyalist

Of all the types, the Six can be the hardest to categorize. That's because the Six is, in many ways, a walking contradiction. For instance, the Six is known as the Loyalist, but the Six is just as likely to be the anti-Loyalist. The problem with Sixes is that they have a fear of committing to anything, a fear which stems from a lack of confidence in themselves with being able to make a correct decision. What if they make the wrong choice?

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But for you, right now, the correct choice is to click over to Indie Writers Monthly and find out how it is that it could be the Sixes who save the world. No, seriously. They plan ahead like that. No problem too small, no apocalypse too big.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Braces Paradigm

Who here had braces when you were growing up? It's okay; you can raise your hand. No one will make fun of you. No, really, no one will make fun of you. No one's going to call you "braceface" or "metal mouth" or ask what time your mouth train is scheduled to arrive.

Actually, I never had braces. I had what I consider to be a good dentist because, when the topic of braces came up, his response was, "He ["he" being me] doesn't need them [for any health reasons]. If you get them, it would be for purely cosmetic reasons." I've never been one for "appearances," meaning that I have some amount of disdain for people who will dismiss someone else based solely upon how that person looks, so I wasn't interested in having my teeth straightened for the sake of having my teeth straightened.

But I had plenty of friends with braces, and none of them had wanted to have them. Braces were something that was forced upon unsuspecting teenagers, and they universally hated the idea. The very lucky ones, like my cousin, got to wear headgear. "Fortunately," he only had to wear it to school for the first month or so of having it, but he had to wear the headgear to bed for something like two years.

And we haven't even mentioned retainers, yet. Retainers that I hated even without ever having to have one. However, it was a fairly frequent occurrence to have to dig through trash to find the accidentally dumped retainer that I hated them. And I had this one friend who thought it was the most hilarious thing ever to stick her retainer into people's food when they weren't looking. And it was... the first couple of times she did it to someone, but it got old. Let's just say that I never took a trip to the bathroom until I was all the way finished with my food.

All of that to say that braces were not something that made you popular, and you were bound to endure some amount of teasing if you got them.

But that was 30 years ago...

The other night at dinner, my daughter asked me, "When can I get braces?" and she doesn't even really "need" them. [She doesn't "need" them at all.] So why does she want braces? All of her friends have them. Some of her friends have had them since they were six or seven years old.

That age thing there is why we left our previous dentist. When my younger son was about eight, they started pressuring me every time I had them in to get braces for him. I was rather aghast about it the first time they broached the subject of "starting him on braces" as if it was some kind of vitamin supplement. The response I got to asking them why was something about how they, now, have stage one braces for baby teeth and stage two braces for adult teeth. They had no good answer for why I would want to straighten teeth which are just going to fall out other than "it's just better." Yeah, better for them, because they get money from me for that much longer.

So I did the research (because, and those of you who have been around long enough will know, I always do the research), and the current studies show that there is no discernible benefit for getting braces for your kid before their adult teeth are in. It just means that you will have to do two rounds of braces. Even without the expense, why would you want to do that to your kid?

I can tell you why:
Braces, now, are normal. And not just normal, not just acceptable, they are the preferred state. They are a status symbol of sorts, and they are expected, hence the question, "When can I get braces?" [Like the other question she asks all the time: When can I get a [cell] phone?] Her friends have not come to school in shame, trying to hide their mouths and keep from smiling, but have come to school showing them off, "Look! I got braces!" Like it was an ice cream cone or something.

And that just goes to show you how perceptions can change, rather like with the lobster. There was a time when lobsters were considered "low" food and some states had laws against feeding lobster to prisoners more than once or twice a week because it was "cruel and unusual punishment." What a long way we've come from that (though I still don't like lobster). There are countless other examples that I could make.

I don't have any other point to make of this. I just find this kind of thing -- I'll call it "social conditioning" -- interesting.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Love Hurts (or What the Cat Did)

I know he looks all calm and peaceful in that above picture, but the cat and I have a rather contentious relationship. It's not that we don't like each other, either. In fact, the cat likes me rather more than I'm comfortable with. That doesn't stop him from threatening me with laser eyes!
No, just kidding. He never threatens. It's just a "do or do not" thing. Okay, fine! I'm kidding!

I think...

I mean, he's never shot lasers at me, but that doesn't mean I don't think he could if he wanted to.

Actually, the problem really is that the cat has a great amount of affection for me. So much so that during the middle of the night, as I've spoken about before, he will decide he needs me to come and just sit with him. He wants to hang out in the living room and stare out the window, but... it's like he's scared to be alone in the dark and needs me on the couch. Sometimes he comes and sleeps on my lap. Fortunately, now that it's colder, he's been pretty content to sleep at the foot of the bed and not worry about the window and what might be out in the dark.

But that's not what I want to talk about...

The actual problem is that one of the things cats do to "loved ones" is groom them. Have you ever been groomed by a cat? Let me just say: it's not a comfortable experience. If you want to know what it's like, go buy some sandpaper. Of course, I'm assuming you don't just have some around. When I was a kid, we always hand sandpaper on hand but, then, my dad had a tool closet full of all kinds of stuff that he never used. Including sandpaper. Because, if anything needed to be sanded, that was my job. Anyway... Go get some sandpaper and tear off a piece about the size of the end of your pinky finger. Now, take that paper, find a place on your forearm, and stroke that piece of paper in the same spot on your arm for, say, five minutes. Can you do it? No? Hurts, doesn't it? Imagine that going on for half an hour.

It leaves abrasions on the skin just like the kind you'd get when you were a kid and fell down on the concrete. The next day there will be little scabs all over in the patch of skin that he groomed, and it hurts for a couple of days. One time, he did it to my collar bone, which didn't hurt while he was doing it, but it left a mark that looked like a hickey. heh My wife wasn't amused.

Speaking of my wife, she always asks me why I let him do that to me. Her position is that I ought to just throw him off of me when he starts the grooming behavior. And, well, maybe I should, but I look at it like this:
When a baby grabs your beard... Oh, you don't have a beard. Okay, ladies, when a baby gets a fistful of your hair in its little baby hand and starts flailing its little arms around, do you throw the baby on the floor? Only if you want to be charged with child abuse, right? Yeah, yeah, but it's a cat; it's different. The cat will land on his feet.

But it's not really different. The cat doesn't know what he's doing. I mean, the cat doesn't know he's causing me pain. It's like if your kids make you breakfast in bed for your birthday and, then, sit there and stare at you so they can watch you eat it... and it's the most terrible sawdust you've ever put in your mouth. But you eat it anyway. For love. Well, so as not to hurt someone trying to show you love, because I am not saying I love the cat. [Trust me; if I had to pick between the cat and the dog,
I'd dropkick the cat out the door before you could count to three (don't tell the cat (though I suspect he already knows)). But that's beside the point.]

Which brings me to the point:
Sometimes, we do painful things for love, our own or someone else's. Even though we know whatever it is will be painful, we do it anyway. And we should. Intent means a lot. Basically, I don't want to punish the cat for something he's doing for the right reasons, even if it does hurt, and that's how we should be with people.

Oh, and by the way, I tried to take some pictures of the wound on my arm after the last time the cat did that to me, but my camera got confused by all the hair and couldn't figure our what to focus on. Maybe next time.